Millions of American school children are being tortured everyday in classrooms, school yards and at bus stops by bullies, an issue that continues to be ignored by teachers, administrators and community leaders.
According to a report released by the National Youth Violence Research Center, nearly 30% of young people have been involved in bullying either as the victim, perpetrator or both. Although bullying can occur anytime between elementary school and high school it is most common between grades 5-9. As is often the case with many issues related to the socialization of our young people, bullying only becomes a topic worth discussion after something tragic occurs to bring it to the front of our collective consciousness. April 20, 2009 marked the 10th anniversary of the infamous Columbine Massacre, one of the deadliest school shootings in history. Experts and those close to the case contend that the killers were subjected to constant bullying by athletes and “popular kids”, creating a fertile ground for the anger and frustration that drove two high school boys to kill 12 and injure 23 others before committing suicide. Earlier this month , Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover an 11 boy from Springfield Mass hanged himself after repeatedly being teased and tormented in school. Just last week another young man, Jaheem Herrera from DeKalb Georgia hanged himself after being bullied by classmates. Although their reactions to the situation were extreme they are indicative of the pain and frustration that comes with being a victim of bullying, a pain that I know well, having been bullied by classmates throughout middle school . My bully’s preferred method of torture was name calling and public humiliation. My crime, being awkward and unattractive, which happens to be the most common reason for bullying among girls, but I was fortunate to be surrounded by teachers and counselors who cared enough about my emotional well-being to not only equip me with tools to handle the bullies but also to do what was necessary to protect me from harm by facilitating discussions with my aggressors and their parents. Had Carl or Jaheem’s teachers done the same perhaps they would still be here. According to Carl’s mother she had approached the school a number of times about her son being teased, in fact she was on her way to a meeting with school officials when she found her son’s body. Masika Bermudez, Jaheem Herrera’s mother , during a memorial service, urged parents and teachers to work together to combat bullying in schools. While I applaud these parents and the others who speak out against bullying I wonder why they’ve been left to do so on their own. Where are our community leaders on this issue, where are the marches, the rallies, the demands that our schools implement programs that educate children about the dangers of bullying and teach tolerance and acceptance of others no matter their race, gender or sexual orientation? Why are our leaders silent and why are we allowing them to be? Most importantly when will we begin to realize that all of the negativity that we experience in our society takes root during the important formative years? It should be no surprise that 60% of children who are categorized as bullies will have at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24. Victim or victimizer, in the end we all lose. There’s an old Ashanti wisdom that says ‘The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people”. Indeed.Special thanks to Jewel Woods and the Renaissance Male Project for the work their doing to combat bullying in schools. You can visit Jewel's blog here.